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  • richardmitnick 3:28 pm on October 16, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: ” NASA’s Hubble Finds Extremely Distant Galaxy through Cosmic Magnifying Glass” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    October 16, 2014
    Felicia Chou
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-0257

    Peering through a giant cosmic magnifying glass, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has spotted a tiny, faint galaxy — one of the farthest galaxies ever seen. The diminutive object is estimated to be more than 13 billion light-years away.

    aabel
    The mammoth galaxy cluster Abell 2744 is so massive that its powerful gravity bends the light from galaxies far behind it, making these otherwise unseen background objects appear larger and brighter than they would normally.
    Image Credit:
    NASA, J. Lotz, (STScI)

    This galaxy offers a peek back to the very early formative years of the universe and may just be the tip of the iceberg.

    “This galaxy is an example of what is suspected to be an abundant, underlying population of extremely small, faint objects that existed about 500 million years after the big bang, the beginning of the universe,” explained study leader Adi Zitrin of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California. “The discovery is telling us galaxies as faint as this one exist, and we should continue looking for them and even fainter objects, so that we can understand how galaxies and the universe have evolved over time.”

    The galaxy was detected by the Frontier Fields program, an ambitious three-year effort that teams Hubble with NASA’s other great observatories — the Spitzer Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory — to probe the early universe by studying large galaxy clusters. These clusters are so massive their gravity deflects light passing through them, magnifying, brightening, and distorting background objects in a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. These powerful lenses allow astronomers to find many dim, distant structures that otherwise might be too faint to see.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA Spitzer schematic
    NASA/Spitzer

    NASA Chandra Telescope
    NASA Chandra schematic
    NASA/Chandra

    The discovery was made using the lensing power of the mammoth galaxy cluster Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster, which produced three magnified images of the same, faint galaxy. Each magnified image makes the galaxy appear 10 times larger and brighter than it would look without the zooming qualities of the cluster.

    The galaxy measures merely 850 light-years across — 500 times smaller than our Milky Way galaxy– and is estimated to have a mass of only 40 million suns. The Milky Way, in comparison, has a stellar mass of a few hundred billion suns. And the galaxy forms about one star every three years, whereas the Milky Way galaxy forms roughly one star per year. However, given its small size and low mass, Zitrin said the tiny galaxy actually is rapidly evolving and efficiently forming stars.

    The astronomers believe galaxies such as this one are probably small clumps of matter that started to form stars and shine, but do not yet have a defined structure. It is possible Hubble is only detecting one bright clump magnified due to the lensing. This would explain why the object is smaller than typical field galaxies of that time.

    Zitrin’s team spotted the galaxy’s gravitationally multiplied images using near-infrared and visible-light photos of the galaxy cluster taken by Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and Advanced Camera for Surveys. But they needed to measure how far away it was from Earth.

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    WFC3 on Hubble

    NASA Hubble ACS
    ACS on Hubble

    Usually, astronomers can determine an object’s distance based on how far its light has been stretched as the universe slowly expands. Astronomers can precisely measure this effect through spectroscopy, which characterizes an object’s light. But the gravitationally-lensed galaxy and other objects found at this early time period are too far away and too dim for spectroscopy, so astronomers use an object’s color to estimate its distance. The universe’s expansion reddens an object’s color in predictable ways, which scientists can measure.

    Zitrin’s team performed the color-analysis technique and took advantage of the multiple images produced by the gravitational lens to independently confirm the group’s distance estimate. The astronomers measured the angular separation between the three magnified images of the galaxy in the Hubble photos. The greater the angular separation due to lensing, the farther away the object is from Earth.

    To test this concept, the astronomers compared the three magnified images with the locations of several other closer, multiply-imaged background objects captured in Hubble images of Pandora’s cluster. The angular distance between the magnified images of the closer galaxies was smaller.

    “These measurements imply that, given the large angular separation between the three images of our background galaxy, the object must lie very far away,” Zitrin explained. “It also matches the distance estimate we calculated, based on the color-analysis technique. So we are about 95 percent confident this object is at a remote distance, at redshift 10, a measure of the stretching of space since the big bang. The lensing takes away any doubt that this might be a heavily reddened, nearby object masquerading as a far more distant object.”

    Astronomers have long debated whether such early galaxies could have provided enough radiation to warm the hydrogen that cooled soon after the big bang. This process, called reionization, is thought to have occurred 200 million to 1 billion years after the birth of the universe. Reionization made the universe transparent to light, allowing astronomers to look far back into time without running into a “fog” of cold hydrogen.

    The team’s results appeared in the September online edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

    For images and more information about Hubble, visit:

    http://www.nasa.gov/hubble

    See the full article here.

    Another view of Abell 2744 from Hubble

    abel 2744
    Description: Abell 2744, nicknamed Pandora’s Cluster. The galaxies in the cluster make up less than five percent of its mass. The gas (around 20 percent) is so hot that it shines only in X-rays (coloured red in this image). The distribution of invisible dark matter (making up around 75 percent of the cluster’s mass) is coloured here in blue.
    Date:22 June 2011

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 10:06 am on October 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “Turquoise-tinted plumes in the Large Magellanic Cloud” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    13 October 2014
    No Writer Credit

    The brightly glowing plumes seen in this image are reminiscent of an underwater scene, with turquoise-tinted currents and nebulous strands reaching out into the surroundings.

    LMC
    NASA/ESA Hubble Acknowledgement: Josh Barrington
    Hubble Space Telescope WFPC2 (decommissioned)

    NASA Hubble WFPC2

    However, this is no ocean. This image actually shows part of the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small nearby galaxy that orbits our galaxy, the Milky Way, and appears as a blurred blob in our skies. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has peeked many times into this galaxy, releasing stunning images of the whirling clouds of gas and sparkling stars (opo9944a, heic1301, potw1408a).

    This image shows part of the Tarantula Nebula‘s outskirts. This famously beautiful nebula, located within the LMC, is a frequent target for Hubble (heic1206, heic1402).

    In most images of the LMC the colour is completely different to that seen here. This is because, in this new image, a different set of filters was used. The customary R filter, which selects the red light, was replaced by a filter letting through the near-infrared light. In traditional images, the hydrogen gas appears pink because it shines most brightly in the red. Here however, other less prominent emission lines dominate in the blue and green filters.

    This data is part of the Archival Pure Parallel Project (APPP), a project that gathered together and processed over 1000 images taken using Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 2, obtained in parallel with other Hubble instruments. Much of the data in the project could be used to study a wide range of astronomical topics, including gravitational lensing and cosmic shear, exploring distant star-forming galaxies, supplementing observations in other wavelength ranges with optical data, and examining star populations from stellar heavyweights all the way down to solar-mass stars.

    A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Josh Barrington.

    See the full article here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 9:15 am on October 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “Hubble Opens New Eyes on the Universe” 2009 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    CONTACT

    J.D. Harrington
    Headquarters, Washington
    202-358-5241
    j.d.harrington@nasa.gov

    Susan Hendrix
    Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
    301-286-7745
    susan.m.hendrix@nasa.gov

    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

    Astronomers declared NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope a fully rejuvenated observatory with the release Wednesday of observations from four of its six operating science instruments.

    Topping the list of new views are colorful, multi-wavelength pictures of far-flung galaxies, a densely packed star cluster, an eerie “pillar of creation,” and a “butterfly” nebula. Hubble’s suite of new instruments allows it to study the universe across a wide swath of the light spectrum, from ultraviolet all the way to near-infrared. In addition, scientists released spectroscopic observations that slice across billions of light-years to probe the cosmic-web structure of the universe and map the distribution of elements that are fundamental to life as we know it.

    kiss
    NGC 6302

    “This marks a new beginning for Hubble,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The telescope was given an extreme makeover and now is significantly more powerful than ever, well-equipped to last into the next decade.”

    The new instruments are more sensitive to light and, therefore, will improve Hubble’s observing efficiency significantly. It is able to complete observations in a fraction of the time that was needed with prior generations of Hubble instruments. The space observatory today is significantly more powerful than it ever has been.

    “We couldn’t be more thrilled with the quality of the images from the new Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) and repaired Advanced Camera for Surveys (ACS), and the spectra from the Cosmic Origins Spectrograph (COS) and the Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph (STIS),” said Keith Noll, leader of a team at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, which planned the early release observations. “The targets we’ve selected to showcase the telescope reveal the great range of capabilities in our newly upgraded Hubble.”

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    NASA/Hubble WFC3

    NASA Hubble ACS
    NASA/Hubble ACS

    NASA Hubble Cosmic Origins Spectograph
    NASA/Hubble COS

    NASA Hubble STIS
    NASA/Hubble STIS

    These results are compelling evidence of the success of the STS-125 servicing mission in May, which has brought the space observatory to the apex of its scientific performance. Two new instruments, the WFC3 and COS, were installed, and two others, the ACS and STIS, were repaired at the circuit board level. Mission scientists also announced Wednesday that the Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer was brought back into operation during the three months of calibration and testing.

    “On this mission we wanted to replenish the ‘tool kit’ of Hubble instruments on which scientists around the world rely to carry out their cutting-edge research,” said David Leckrone, senior project scientist for Hubble at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “Prior to this servicing mission, we had only three unique instrument channels still working, and today we have 13. I’m very proud to be able to say, ‘mission accomplished.’ “

    For the past three months, scientists and engineers at the Space Telescope Science Institute and Goddard have been focusing, testing, and calibrating the instruments. Hubble is one of the most complex space telescopes ever launched, and the Hubble servicing mission astronauts performed major surgery on the 19-year-old observatory’s multiple systems. This orbital verification phase was interrupted briefly July 23 to observe Jupiter in the aftermath of a collision with a suspected comet.

    Hubble now enters a phase of full science observations. The demand for observing time will be intense. Observations will range from studying the population of Kuiper Belt objects at the fringe of our solar system to surveying the birth of planets around other stars and probing the composition and structure of extrasolar planet atmospheres. There are ambitious plans to take the deepest-ever near-infrared portrait of the universe to reveal never-before-seen infant galaxies that existed when the universe was less than 500 million years old. Other planned observations will attempt to shed light on the behavior of dark energy, a repulsive force that is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate.

    kb
    Known objects in the Kuiper belt, derived from data from the Minor Planet Center. Objects in the main belt are colored green, whereas scattered objects are colored orange. The four outer planets are blue. Neptune’s few known trojans are yellow, whereas Jupiter’s are pink. The scattered objects between Jupiter’s orbit and the Kuiper belt are known as centaurs. The scale is in astronomical units. The pronounced gap at the bottom is due to difficulties in detection against the background of the plane of the Milky Way.

    See the full article here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 8:48 pm on October 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “A dusty spiral in Virgo” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    6 October 2014
    No Writer Credit

    This magnificent new image taken with the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the edge-on spiral galaxy NGC 4206, located about 70 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation of Virgo.

    ngc4206
    Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Nick Rose
    Hubble Space Telescope ACS

    NASA Hubble ACS
    Hubble ACS

    Captured here are vast streaks of dust, some of which are obscuring the central bulge, which can just be made out in the centre of the galaxy. Towards the edges of the galaxy, the scattered clumps, which appear blue in this image, mark areas where stars are being born. The bulge, on the other hand, is composed mostly of much older, redder stars, and very little star formation takes place.

    NGC 4206 was imaged as part of a Hubble snapshot survey of nearby edge-on spiral galaxies to measure the effect that the material between the stars — known as the interstellar medium — has on light as it travels through it. Using its Advanced Camera for Surveys, Hubble can reveal information about the dusty material and hydrogen gas in the cold parts of the interstellar medium. Astronomers are then able to map the absorption and scattering of light by the material — an effect known as extinction — which causes objects to appear redder to us, the observers.

    NGC 4206 is visible with most moderate amateur telescopes at 13th magnitude. It was discovered by Hanoverian-born British astronomer, William Herschel on 17 April 1784.

    A version of this image was entered into the Hubble’s Hidden Treasures image processing competition by contestant Nick Rose.

    See the full article here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 8:33 pm on October 9, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “Hubble Maps the Temperature and Water Vapor on an Extreme Exoplanet” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    October 9, 2014
    CONTACT
    Ray Villard
    Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
    410-338-4514
    villard@stsci.edu

    A team of scientists using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope have made the most detailed global map yet of the glow from a planet orbiting another star, revealing secrets of air temperatures and water.

    The map provides information about temperatures at different layers of the world’s atmosphere and traces the amount and distribution of water vapor on the planet. The findings have ramifications for the understanding of atmospheric dynamics and the formation of giant planets like Jupiter.

    “These measurements have opened the door for a new kind of comparative planetology,” said team leader Jacob Bean of the University of Chicago.

    “Our observations are the first of their kind in terms of providing a two-dimensional map of the planet’s thermal structure that can be used to constrain atmospheric circulation and dynamical models for hot exoplanets,” said team member Kevin Stevenson of the University of Chicago.

    The Hubble observations show that the planet, called WASP-43b, is no place to call home. It’s a world of extremes, where seething winds howl at the speed of sound from a 3,000-degree-Fahrenheit day side that is hot enough to melt steel to a pitch-black night side that sees temperatures plunge below a relatively cool 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

    wasp 43
    WASP-43b is a transiting planet in orbit around the young, active, and low-mass star WASP-43 in the constellation Sextans. The planet is a Hot Jupiter with a mass twice that of Jupiter, and a radius equal to Jupiter’s. WASP-43b had an orbital period of approximately 0.8 days (19.2 hours), the second shortest orbit ever detected, surpassed only by WASP-19b. In addition, at the time of discovery, WASP-43b was the most closely orbiting Hot Jupiter known, a phenomenon that can most likely be explained by its host star’s low mass.

    map
    Global Temperature Map of WASP-43b

    As a hot ball of predominantly hydrogen gas, there are no surface features on the planet, such as oceans or continents that can be used to track its rotation. Only the severe temperature difference between the day and night sides can be used by a remote observer to mark the passage of a day on this world.

    WASP-43b is located 260 light-years away and was first discovered in 2011. WASP-43b is too distant to be photographed, but because its orbit is observed edge-on to Earth, astronomers detected it by observing regular dips in the light of its parent star as the planet passes in front of it.

    The planet is about the same size as Jupiter, but is nearly twice as massive. The planet is so close to its orange dwarf host star that it completes an orbit in just 19 hours. The planet is also gravitationally locked so that it keeps one hemisphere facing the star, just as our moon keeps one face toward Earth.

    The scientists combined two previous methods of analyzing exoplanets and put them together in one for the first time to study the atmosphere of WASP-43b. Spectroscopy allowed them to determine the water abundance and temperature structure of the atmosphere. By observing the planet’s rotation, the astronomers were also able to measure the water abundances and temperatures at different longitudes.

    Because there’s no planet with these tortured conditions in our solar system, characterizing the atmosphere of such a bizarre world provides a unique laboratory for better understanding planet formation and planetary physics. “The planet is so hot that all the water in its atmosphere is vaporized, rather than condensed into icy clouds like on Jupiter,” said team member Laura Kreidberg of the University of Chicago.

    “Water is thought to play an important role in the formation of giant planets, since comet-like bodies bombard young planets, delivering most of the water and other molecules that we can observe,” said Jonathan Fortney, a member of the team from the University of California, Santa Cruz.

    However, the water abundances in the giant planets of our solar system are poorly known because water is locked away as ice that has precipitated out of their upper atmospheres. But on “hot Jupiters” — that is, large planets like Jupiter that have high surface temperatures because they orbit very close to their stars — water is in a vapor that can be readily traced. Kreidberg also emphasized that the team didn’t simply detect water in the atmosphere of WASP-43b, but also precisely measured how much of it there is and how it is distributed with longitude.

    In order to understand how giant planets form, astronomers want to know how enriched they are in different elements. The team found that WASP-43b has about the same amount of water as we would expect for an object with the same chemical composition as the Sun. Kreidberg said that this tells something fundamental about how the planet formed.

    For the first time astronomers were able to observe three complete rotations of a planet, which occurred during a span of four days. This was essential to making such a precise measurement according to Jean-Michel Désert of the University of Colorado, Boulder.

    The team next aims to make water-abundance measurements for different planets to explore their chemical abundances. Hubble’s planned successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, will be able to not only measure water abundances, but also the abundances of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ammonia, and methane, depending on the planet’s temperature.

    NASA Webb Telescope
    NASA/Webb

    The results are presented in two new papers, one published online in Science Express on Oct. 9, and the other published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on Sept. 12.

    See the full article here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 1:12 pm on September 25, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Daily Galaxy: “Hubble Captures a Newly Formed Galaxy in Our Cosmic Neighborhood” 

    Daily Galaxy
    The Daily Galaxy

    September 25, 2014
    No Writer Credit

    ddo

    Elderly galaxies tend to be larger thanks to collisions and mergers with other galaxies that have bulked them out, and are populated with a variety of different types of stars — including old, young, large, and small ones. Their chemical makeup is different too. Newly-formed galaxies have a similar composition to the primordial matter created in the Big Bang (hydrogen, helium and a little lithium), while older galaxies are enriched with heavier elements forged in stellar furnaces over multiple generations of stars.
    Dwarf galaxy DDO 68, captured by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, was one of the best candidates so far discovered for a newly-formed galaxy in our cosmic neighborhood. The galaxy lies around 39 million light-years away from us; although this distance may seem huge, it is in fact roughly 50 times closer than the usual distances to such galaxies, which are on the order of several billions of light years.

    NASA Hubble Telescope
    NASA/ESA Hubble

    Astronomers usually have to peer very far into the distance to see back in time, and view the Universe as it was when it was young. This new NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image of galaxy DDO 68, otherwise known as UGC 5340, was thought to offer an exception. This ragged collection of stars and gas clouds looks at first glance like a recently-formed galaxy in our own cosmic neighbourhood. But, is it really as young as it looks?

    Astronomers have studied galactic evolution for decades, gradually improving our knowledge of how galaxies have changed over cosmic history. The NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has played a big part in this, allowing astronomers to see further into the distance, and hence further back in time, than any telescope before it — capturing light that has taken billions of years to reach us.

    Looking further into the very distant past to observe younger and younger galaxies is very valuable, but it is not without its problems for astronomers. All newly-born galaxies lie very far away from us and appear very small and faint in the images. On the contrary, all the galaxies near to us appear to be old ones.

    By studying galaxies of various ages, astronomers have found that those early in their lives are fundamentally different from those that are older. DDO 68 looks to be relatively youthful based on its structure, appearance, and composition. However, without more detailed modelling astronomers cannot be sure and they think it may be older than it lets on.

    DDO 68 is the best representation yet of a primordial galaxy in the local Universe as it appears at first glance to be very low in heavier elements — whose presence would be a sign of the existence of previous generations of stars.

    lg
    Local Group

    Hubble observations were carried out in order to study the properties of the galaxy’s light, and to confirm whether or not there are any older stars in DDO 68. If there are, which there seem to be, this would disprove the hypothesis that it is entirely made up of young stars. If not, it would confirm the unique nature of this galaxy. More complex modelling is needed before we can know for sure but Hubble’s picture certainly gives us a beautiful view of this unusual object.

    The image is made up of exposures in visible and infrared light taken with Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys.

    NASA Hubble ACS
    Hubble ACS

    See the full article here.

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  • richardmitnick 1:43 pm on September 24, 2014 Permalink | Reply
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    From Hubble: “Clear skies on exo-Neptune” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    24 September 2014

    Contacts

    Nikku Madhusudhan
    University of Cambridge
    United Kingdom
    Tel: +1 617 475 5112
    Cell: +44 7804 419140
    Email: nmadhu@ast.cam.ac.uk

    Jonathan Fraine
    University of Maryland
    USA
    Tel: +1-301-405-1469
    Email: jfraine@astro.umd.edu

    Drake Deming
    University of Maryland
    USA
    Tel: +1-301-405-8053
    Email: ddeming@astro.umd.edu

    Georgia Bladon
    ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Cell: +44 7816291261
    Email: gbladon@partner.eso.org

    Astronomers using data from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Kepler Space Telescope have discovered clear skies and steamy water vapour on a planet outside our Solar System. The planet, known as HAT-P-11b, is about the size of Neptune, making it the smallest exoplanet ever on which water vapour has been detected. The results will appear in the online version of the journal Nature on 24 September 2014.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    NASA Kepler Telescope
    NASA/Kepler

    hat
    Size comparison of HAT-P-11b (gray) with Neptune.

    hatb
    Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

    The discovery is a milestone on the road to eventually finding molecules in the atmospheres of smaller, rocky planets more akin to Earth. Clouds in the atmospheres of planets can block the view of what lies beneath them. The molecular makeup of these lower regions can reveal important information about the composition and history of a planet. Finding clear skies on a Neptune-size planet is a good sign that some smaller planets might also have similarly good visibility.

    “When astronomers go observing at night with telescopes, they say ‘clear skies’ to mean good luck,” said Jonathan Fraine of the University of Maryland, USA, lead author of the study. “In this case, we found clear skies on a distant planet. That’s lucky for us because it means clouds didn’t block our view of water molecules.”

    HAT-P-11b is a so-called exo-Neptune — a Neptune-sized planet that orbits another star. It is located 120 light-years away in the constellation of Cygnus (The Swan). Unlike Neptune, this planet orbits closer to its star, making one lap roughly every five days. It is a warm world thought to have a rocky core, a mantle of fluid and ice, and a thick gaseous atmosphere. Not much else was known about the composition of the planet, or other exo-Neptunes like it, until now.

    Part of the challenge in analysing the atmospheres of planets like this is their size. Larger Jupiter-like planets are easier to observe and researchers have already been able to detect water vapour in the atmospheres of some of these giant planets. Smaller planets are more difficult to probe — and all the smaller ones observed to date have appeared to be cloudy.

    The team used Hubble’s Wide Field Camera 3 and a technique called transmission spectroscopy, in which a planet is observed as it crosses in front of its parent star. Starlight filters through the rim of the planet’s atmosphere and into the telescope. If molecules like water vapour are present, they absorb some of the starlight, leaving distinct signatures in the light that reaches our telescopes.

    NASA Hubble WFC3
    WFC3 on Hubble

    “We set out to look at the atmosphere of HAT-P-11b without knowing if its weather would be cloudy or not,” said Nikku Madhusudhan, from the University of Cambridge, UK, part of the study team. “By using transmission spectroscopy, we could use Hubble to detect water vapour in the planet. This told us that the planet didn’t have thick clouds blocking the view and is a very hopeful sign that we can find and analyse more cloudless, smaller, planets in the future. It is groundbreaking!”

    Before the team could celebrate they had to be sure that the water vapour was from the planet and not from cool starspots — “freckles” on the face of stars — on the parent star. Luckily, Kepler had been observing the patch of sky in which HAT-P-11b happens to lie for years. Those visible-light data were combined with targeted infrared Spitzer observations. By comparing the datasets the astronomers could confirm that the starspots were too hot to contain any water vapour, and so the vapour detected must belong to the planet.

    The results from all three telescopes demonstrate that HAT-P-11b is blanketed in water vapour, hydrogen gas, and other yet-to-be-identified molecules. So in fact it is not only the smallest planet to have water vapour found in its atmosphere but is also the smallest planet for which molecules of any kind have been directly detected using spectroscopy. Theorists will be drawing up new models to explain the planet’s makeup and origins.

    Although HAT-P-11b is dubbed as an exo-Neptune it is actually quite unlike any planet in our Solar System. It is thought that exo-Neptunes may have diverse compositions that reflect their formation histories. New findings such as this can help astronomers to piece together a theory for the origin of these distant worlds.

    “We are working our way down the line, from hot Jupiters to exo-Neptunes,” said Drake Deming, a co-author of the study also from University of Maryland, USA. “We want to expand our knowledge to a diverse range of exoplanets.”

    The astronomers plan to examine more exo-Neptunes in the future, and hope to apply the same method to smaller super-Earths — massive, rocky cousins to our home world with up to ten times the mass of Earth. Our Solar System does not contain a super-Earth, but other telescopes are finding them around other stars in droves and the NASA/ESA James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2018, will search super-Earths for signs of water vapour and other molecules. However, finding signs of oceans and potentially habitable worlds is likely a way off.

    This work is important for future studies of super-Earths and even smaller planets. It could allow astronomers to pick out in advance the planets with atmospheres clear enough for molecules to be detected. Once again, astronomers will be crossing their fingers for clear skies.

    The international team of astronomers in this study consists of J. Fraine (University of Maryland, USA; Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile; California Institute of Technology, USA); D. Deming (University of Maryland, USA; NASA Astrobiology Institute, USA); B. Benneke (California Institute of Technology, USA); H. Knutson (California Institute of Technology, USA); A. Jordán (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile); N. Espinoza (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, Chile); N. Madhusudhan (University of Cambridge, UK); A. Wilkins (University of Maryland, USA); K. Todorov (ETH Zürich, Switzerland)

    See the full article, with notes, here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 11:55 am on September 22, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA/ESA Hubble   

    From Hubble: “Jets and explosions in NGC 7793″ 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    22 September 2014
    No Writer Credit

    This new image from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows NGC 7793, a spiral galaxy in the constellation of Sculptor some 13 million light-years away from Earth. NGC 7793 is one of the brightest galaxies in the Sculptor Group, and one of the closest groups of galaxies to the Local Group — the group of galaxies containing our galaxy, the Milky Way and the Magellanic Clouds.

    lg
    Local Group

    ngc7793
    NGC7793
    Credit: NASA/ESA Hubble Acknowledgement: D. Calzetti (University of Massachusetts) and the LEGUS Team
    Hubble WFC3
    NASA Hubble WFC3

    mc
    Seen from the southern skies, the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds (the LMC and SMC, respectively) are bright patches in the sky. These two irregular dwarf galaxies, together with our Milky Way Galaxy, belong to the so-called Local Group of galaxies. Astronomers once thought that the two Magellanic Clouds orbited the Milky Way, but recent research suggests this is not the case, and that they are in fact on their first pass by the Milky Way. The LMC, lying at a distance of 160 000 light-years, and its neighbour the SMC, some 200 000 light-years away, are among the largest distant objects we can observe with the unaided eye. Both galaxies have notable bar features across their central discs, although the very strong tidal forces exerted by the Milky Way have distorted the galaxies considerably. The mutual gravitational pull of the three interacting galaxies has drawn out long streams of neutral hydrogen that interlink the three galaxies.
    Source ESO

    The image shows NGC 7793’s spiral arms and small central bulge. Unlike some other spirals, NGC 7793 doesn’t have a very pronounced spiral structure, and its shape is further muddled by the mottled pattern of dark dust that stretches across the frame. The occasional burst of bright pink can be seen in the galaxy, highlighting stellar nurseries containing newly-forming baby stars.

    Although it may look serene and beautiful from our perspective, this galaxy is actually a very dramatic and violent place. Astronomers have discovered a powerful microquasar within NGC 7793 — a system containing a black hole actively feeding on material from a companion star. While many full-sized quasars are known at the cores of other galaxies, it is unusual to find a quasar in a galaxy’s disc rather than at its centre.

    Micro-quasars are almost like scale models — they allow astronomers to study quasars in detail. As material falls inwards towards this black hole, it creates a swirling disc around it. Some of the infalling gas is propelled violently outwards at extremely high speeds, creating jets streaking out into space in opposite directions. In the case of NGC 7793, these jets are incredibly powerful, and are in the process of creating an expanding bubble of hot gas some 1000 light-years across.

    See the full article here.

    Another view:

    ngc7793S
    NGC 7793 as observed with the Spitzer Space Telescope as part of the Spitzer Infrared Nearby Galaxy Survey. The blue colors represent the 3.6 micrometre emission from stars. The green and red colors represent the 5.8 and 8.0 micrometre emission from polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and possibly dust.

    NASA Spitzer Telescope
    NASA/Spitzer

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 4:59 pm on September 18, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA/ESA Hubble   

    From Hubble- Hubblecast 77: Hubble and the Bermuda Triangle of space 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    Hubblecast 77: Hubble and the Bermuda Triangle of space

    This Hubblecast tells the story of what happens to Hubble in the mysterious region known as the South Atlantic Anomaly. When satellites pass through this area they are bombarded with swarms of intensely high energy particles. This can produce “glitches” in astronomical data, malfunctioning of on-board electronics, and has even shut down unprepared spacecraft for weeks!

    van
    A cross-sectional view of the Van Allen radiation belts, noting the point where the South Atlantic Anomaly occurs.

    rosat
    Image of the South Atlantic Anomaly (SAA) taken by the ROSAT satellite. Image reflects the SAA at approximately 560Km.

    NASA ROSAT staellite
    NASA/ROSAT

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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  • richardmitnick 12:59 pm on September 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA/ESA Hubble   

    From Hubble: “Big surprises can come in small packages” 

    NASA Hubble Telescope

    Hubble

    17 September 2014
    Contacts

    Anil Seth
    University of Utah
    Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
    Tel: +1-801-585-7793
    Cell: +1-206-724-3820
    Email: aseth@astro.utah.edu

    Remco van den Bosch
    Max Planck Institute for Astronomy
    Heidelberg, Germany
    Tel: +1-702-337-9424 (currently travelling in USA)
    Email: bosch@mpia.de

    Georgia Bladon
    ESA/Hubble, Public Information Officer
    Garching bei München, Germany
    Tel: +44 7816291261
    Email: gbladon@partner.eso.org

    Hubble helps astronomers find smallest known galaxy with supermassive black hole

    Astronomers using the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope have found a monster lurking in a very unlikely place. New observations of the ultracompact dwarf galaxy M60-UCD1 have revealed a supermassive black hole at its heart, making this tiny galaxy the smallest ever found to host a supermassive black hole. This suggests that there may be many more supermassive black holes that we have missed, and tells us more about the formation of these incredibly dense galaxies. The results will be published in the journal Nature on 18 September 2014.

    bh

    Lying about 50 million light-years away, M60-UCD1 is a tiny galaxy with a diameter of 300 light-years — just 1/500th of the diameter of the Milky Way. Despite its size it is pretty crowded, containing some 140 million stars. While this is characteristic of an ultracompact dwarf galaxy (UCD) like M60-UCD1, this particular UCD happens to be the densest ever seen.

    Despite their huge numbers of stars, UCDs always seem to be heavier than they should be. Now, an international team of astronomers has made a new discovery that may explain why — at the heart of M60-UCD1 lurks a supermassive black hole with the mass of 20 million Suns.

    “We’ve known for some time that many UCDs are a bit overweight. They just appear to be too heavy for the luminosity of their stars,” says co-author Steffen Mieske of the European Southern Observatory in Chile. “We had already published a study that suggested this additional weight could come from the presence of supermassive black holes, but it was only a theory. Now, by studying the movement of the stars within M60-UCD1, we have detected the effects of such a black hole at its centre. This is a very exciting result and we want to know how many more UCDs may harbour such extremely massive objects.”

    The supermassive black hole at the centre of M60-UCD1 makes up a huge 15 percent of the galaxy’s total mass, and weighs five times that of the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way. “That is pretty amazing, given that the Milky Way is 500 times larger and more than 1000 times heavier than M60-UCD1,” explains Anil Seth of the University of Utah, USA, lead author of the international study. “In fact, even though the black hole at the centre of our Milky Way galaxy has the mass of 4 million Suns it is still less than 0.01 percent of the Milky Way’s total mass, which makes you realise how significant M60-UCD1’s black hole really is.”

    The team discovered the supermassive black hole by observing M60-UCD1 with both the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the Gemini North 8-metre optical and infrared telescope on Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, USA. The sharp Hubble images provided information about the galaxy’s diameter and stellar density, whilst Gemini was used to measure the movement of stars in the galaxy as they were affected by the black hole’s gravitational pull. These data were then used to calculate the mass of the unseen black hole.

    Gemini North telescope
    Gemini North Interior
    Gemini Noth

    The finding implies that there may be a substantial population of previously unnoticed black holes. In fact, the astronomers predict there may be as many as double the known number of black holes in the local Universe.

    Additionally, the results could affect theories of how such UCDs form. “This finding suggests that dwarf galaxies may actually be the stripped remnants of larger galaxies that were torn apart during collisions with other galaxies, rather than small islands of stars born in isolation,” explains Seth. “We don’t know of any other way you could make a black hole so big in an object this small.”

    One explanation is that M60-UCD1 was once a large galaxy containing 10 billion stars, and a supermassive black hole to match. “This galaxy may have passed too close to the centre of its much larger neighbouring galaxy, Messier 60,” explains co author Remco van den Bosch of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany. “In that process the outer part of the galaxy would have been torn away to become part of Messier 60, leaving behind only the small and compact galaxy we see today.”

    The team believes that M60-UDC1 may one day merge with Messier 60 to form a single galaxy. Messier 60 also has its own monster black hole an amazing 4.5 billion times the size of our Sun and more than 1000 times bigger than the black hole in our Milky Way. A merger between the two galaxies would also cause the black holes to merge, creating an even more monstrous black hole.

    The international team of astronomers in this study consists of A.C. Seth (University of Utah, USA); R. van den Bosch (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg, Germany); S. Mieske (European Southern Observatory, Chile); H. Baumgardt (University of Queensland, Australia); M. den Brok (University of Utah, USA); J. Strader (Michigan State University, USA); N. Neumayer (European Southern Observatory, Germany); I. Chilingarian (Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, USA; Moscow State University, Russia); M. Hilker (European Southern Observatory, Germany); R. McDermid (Australian Astronomical Observatory, Australia; Macquarie University, Australia); L. Spitler (Australian Astronomical Observatory, Australia; Macquarie University, Australia); J. Brodie (University of California, USA); M. J. Frank (Heidelberg University, Germany); J. L. Walsh (The University of Texas at Austin, USA).

    See the full article, with notes, here.

    The Hubble Space Telescope is a project of international cooperation between NASA and the European Space Agency. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center manages the telescope. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), is a free-standing science center, located on the campus of The Johns Hopkins University and operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) for NASA, conducts Hubble science operations.

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